Some Indefinable Cord, Katy MahonThe jacket is plain: no images and the colour of the card is darkish turquoise. Text is black and centred. The title is lower case about 1/3 down. Author's name a couple of inches below (same size). The publisher's logo is centred at the bottom.

Dreich, 2022          £5.00


The title, clearly printed, reads ‘Cord’ but my mind tries to read it as ‘Chord’. Is there a word for this cross-fertilization? Whatever it might be, it’s something that works well here, pulling two threads of the pamphlet together. Katy Mahon is a musician, and music hovers at the edge of many of the poems. The heart of pamphlet, however, is her exploration of strong family ties, the ‘cord’ that in diverse ways holds the generations together.

She opens strongly, with ‘Dust and Order’ —

Unlike the Ancient Greeks, I don’t do elegies
nor inwardly lament the passing of being
from skin and bone to earth again.

An elegy, traditionally, is a lament that concentrates on the death of single person. Mahon’s pamphlet is dedicated to her father; these opening poems recognise his life, his influences in her writing and there’s a toughness in her language that makes him real. ‘Mask’ describes the outward features — ‘with feet on the ground, pinched nose, / and mouth in a grim line.’ Is he the hero of ‘The sun god taught me to whistle’, a childhood memory of a grown-up creating something magical? In ‘I scratch words in the dusk’ she describes how he saves her life when she trips on the ‘sun-baked concrete’ of Naoussa harbour, ‘his grip-reaction knife-sharp.’ Although she claims she doesn’t ‘do’ elegies, the cumulative effect of these poems is a memorial for him.

Music is part of her memory, a way to bring the past vividly into the present. ‘The Irish Goodbye’ shows the hours after a funeral, when —

She wanders the house plucking sound-memories
from the wall. In a corner a stereo throws notes at her,
the singer opens his heart, transfixing the slick
of a lipstick smudge of a wine glass rim.

There’s an inter-play of sound and sight in the way the casual notes bring back the tiny detail of a wake. In ‘Music at night reflects’ she stares into the black lacquer of the family piano, where she can ‘brush notes from my sleeve / with open mouth, inhale / their colours’. Poetry can play on so many senses simultaneously.

D A Prince